"The situation is very simple," said Pierre Lechantre, the French coach of Libya's most titled outfit, who hope to avoid the fate of Al Ahli Tripoli after their CAF Champions League first round loss to Egyptian club Smouha. "If we lose, everyone goes home. For me, that means France, and for the players, Libya. The players would then have nothing to do, because the championship is not being held for reasons of security. But if we qualify, we carry on."
An understanding approach
The players themselves have found it difficult adapting to this enforced exile. "It requires a lot of sacrifices, especially when it comes to our families," said Libyan international defender Osama Chtiba, 26. "My wife lives in Tripoli with my four children. I had to wait several weeks before I could see the youngest, who was born recently. Plus, we're always worried about the safety of our loved ones."
Given the unique challenge, Lechantre has developed a coaching system adapted to the difficulties his charges face. "He lets us to back to Tripoli a few days every month," added Chtiba. "We take a plane to Djerba, and from there we travel to the capital by car. It does a lot of good for our morale, and we've come across coaches who were a lot less understanding than him."
In the circumstances, many players would be forgiven for seeking out foreign climes, but Chtiba has no intention of moving. "I could have gone to play in Morocco, Jordan or Lebanon, but I refused because I want to help my club."
While Lechantre allows his players with wives and children a little leeway with welcome breaks in Libya, he takes an alternative approach to the younger, often single, squad members. "I was their age once and know you need to give them time to enjoy themselves and relax," said the coach. The difference is that journeys to Tripoli are off the cards.
"He gives us permission to go out in Tunis or to go and see our families in the south of Tunisia," explained 20-year-old international defender Ahmad Al-Kilo. "It's a situation that's not always easy. I haven't been back to Libya for more than two years. I know that over there, or in Tripoli anyway, life is fairly normal, but of course we're thinking about our families and loved ones. Sometimes, your head just isn't right for football, but we know it's important for the people of Libya when they see us winning matches."
Electricity in the air
With hopes of an improvement in the situation seemingly forlorn for now, given the extent of the problems back home, Al Ittihad's players have learned to make do with their day-to-day reality. "We work hard, given that we have the players close at hand," said Lechantre, who has amassed vast experience of African football since being appointed Cameroon coach in 1999.
"We train and we play friendly matches, but it's obvious that a situation like this has forced me to adapt. Sometimes, you can feel a tension and you realise that there's electricity in the air, because the players are fed up with being so far from their country and their families, or because their salaries are a little late. You have to be very attentive with each of them, but I'm lucky to have a well-adjusted group of players. They don't want everything to end at the weekend."
Indeed, Chtiba is not ready to even countenance the idea of defeat at the hands of ASEC. "That's something we're not even contemplating," he said. "We want to go as far as possible because what we're going through at the moment is a genuine source of inspiration."